India's president arrives in Myanmar

Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and a 40-member entourage arrived in Yangon amid tight security Wednesday for a landmark trip aimed at strengthening ties between the neighbors despite Myanmar 's continued suppression of democracy. While Indian officials expressed concern over the human-rights situation in Myanmar , also known as Burma , restoring democracy and securing the release of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi were not expected to be a focus of talks when Kalam meets the head of the ruling junta Gen. Than Shwe.

Instead, Kalam will look at boosting India 's strategic ties with Yangon over the three-day trip, Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, who accompanied Kalam, told reporters ahead of the visit. On the top of the agenda was signing a deal to bring natural gas from Myanmar to energy hungry India , Saran said.

India also wants further help from Myanmar to combat a separatist insurgency in India 's remote northeast, which shares a 1,400-kilometer (870-mile) border with Myanmar , he said. Another agreement will set up a ground station in Myanmar to receive data from an Indian satellite used for such things as analyzing soil and minerals for use in agriculture.

Saran denied that Kalam was visiting Myanmar to counter growing Chinese influence there. China , which borders Myanmar to the north, is frequently regarded as a rival by India .

Last month, a coalition of Indian human rights groups and political parties urged the government to put off the visit until Suu Kyi is released. However, Saran said India attached great importance to its ties with Myanmar , which it regarded as a "gateway" to Southeast Asia .

"For various reasons it is important for India and Myanmar to remain engaged," Saran said, adding that India cares about democracy in Myanmar despite its ties to the military government. Myanmar 's military has ruled the country since 1962, and the current junta took over in 1988 after violently suppressing pro-democracy protests.

Saran said India supported the release of Suu Kyi. The pro-democracy leader has spent 10 of the last 16 years in detention and is now under house arrest. During his visit Kalam is also expected to visit the mausoleum of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal Emperor of India , who was exiled to Yangon by the British. India has kept close relations with Myanmar despite international calls to isolate the country until the military restores democracy, reports the AP.


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